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Ketchum mulls regulations for short-term rentals, but won't limit them

Rachel Cohen
Boise State Public Radio
The former Ketchum City Hall building.

The city of Ketchum is drafting an ordinance to deal with the significant growth of short-term rentals as it tries to address ongoing affordable housing issues.

An online petition to limit the number of non-owner occupied short-term rentals with more than 400 signatures, plus similar campaign promises from mayoral challengers in this November’s election, prompted the city to take action.

But while many residents are advocating for such action in order to expand the availability of long-term housing options for local workers, the Ketchum ordinance won’t limit the number of short-term rentals in the city. That’s because of a 2017 Idaho state law prohibiting most regulations on the units like Airbnbs.

“It’s much more focused on getting the licensing in place with basic, easy-to-identify safety standards like windows that work, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, a listing of contacts,” said City Attorney Matt Johnson during Monday’s city council meeting.

Ketchum currently requires short-term rentals to get a business license, but it estimates only 65% have one. The city wants to dedicate staff and a software system to get those units in compliance.

In addition to business licenses, city staff have focused on preserving the health and safety of guests and residents, as that’s permitted under the 2017 law. One option is to treat the rentals like hotels in terms of fire codes, and that could require some units to make updates in order to be rented out.

But some city council members Monday said cracking down on a segment of units — just because they are older and built before fire sprinklers were required, for example — could invite litigation from property owners.

“I am concerned about that portion of it — its fairness and its legality,” said Councilmember Amanda Breen.

Some advocates said the city’s proposals don’t go far enough to reduce short-term rentals’ impacts on affordable housing. They want the city to adopt an ordinance like Sandpoint’s, which only allows 35 non-owner-occupied units in residential zones.

The Idaho Association of Realtors disagrees and opposes Ketchum’s proposed ordinance, which has not yet gone through a first reading, saying it effectively prohibits some rentals.

“The chief component creating the practical prohibition is the ordinance’s imposition of additional standards for residential property which are imposed simply due to the use of the property as a short-term rental,” said a letter from realtors group, sent through an attorney.

The realtors association helped create Idaho’s 2017 legislation prohibiting most short-term rental regulations.

Bob Crosby, the government affairs director for the Sun Valley Board of Realtors, has also challenged Ketchum’s plans.

“Don’t put the more draconian aspects of the ordinance in place until you know what the real consequences are,” he said Monday. He argues regulating short-term rentals will not necessarily increase the availability of long-term rentals.

Ketchum city staff will bring a draft ordinance to a future meeting, and the rules, if passed, could go into effect next spring.

Separately, the city recently hired a housing strategist for a 10-month term who will focus on affordable housing solutions.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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